After receiving her seventh baby shower invitation in as many weeks, Marylin Kindish of Fecund, Illinois, reached her limit. She filed a lawsuit, adding to the rapidly growing number of civil lawsuits around the country alleging that shower invitations are a form of panhandling and in violation of city ordinances. These lawsuits allege that baby and bridal shower invitations are the most overt form of begging for money, items, and gift cards.
And recently, the Illinois Court agreed with the plaintiff. In Kindish vs. The City of Fecund, the court found that the multiple invitations received by Marylin were in violation of the city’s Anti-Panhandling Ordinance which requires a Panhandlers License for: “any solicitation in which a person requests an immediate donation of money or gratuity from another person, and includes signs or other written or verbal indications that a donation is being sought not in response to an inquiry by another person.”
The court specifically pointed out that at least one of the invitation’s clauses: ‘Ladies, let’s pick up the pace on contributions and make sure Mindy gets the Bugaboo Donkey Mono Extendable Silver Stroller® complete with baby iPhone earbuds, specifically violated Section A.1.b.(a)iii.ee. of Fecund’s Ordinance which prohibits Aggressive Panhandling defined as: “requests for money or donations that would cause a reasonable person to feel harassed, intimidated or compelled to contribute.”
The national explosion of these lawsuits indicates that American women believe they need to seek formal legal protection from each other. Women often fear refusing invitations because of the reactions of those hosting and/or attending. “These women are like a vindictive cabal,” one woman said off the record. “If you don’t attend and bring a suitable gift wrapped in fancy paper or a fully loaded gift card you’ll find you’re off the carpool list and your children banned from future birthday parties. It’s not enough to send a gift, you have to attend. It’s gotten out of hand.”
The United States Journal of Psychiatrists studied the nearly exclusive female phenomenon of baby and wedding showers soon after the first lawsuit was filed in 2009. The Journal reported that these events are based on the most superficial kind of relationships and an extreme form of corrosive exploitation. “Baby and wedding showers in current society, “ the Shower Report states, “are not so subtle forms of extortion, both monetarily and socially. Gifts are viewed hierarchically in terms of time, money and effort expended. These are not ‘from the heart experiences’ and, therefore, it comes down to the use of shower attendees as ATM machines.”
The Shower Report goes on to say, “Socially, the order breaks down rapidly if even one woman balks at going. If all women aren’t shamed or coerced into attending, these events would be much smaller and less lucrative. In fact, the growth of the shower industry is evident in the increasing number of events held in cavernous banquet halls and large restaurants, as opposed to the previous intimate settings of homes. In the last five years the number of retailers jumping on the Shower Registry bandwagon has increased 1000%.”
Another study by the Journal is still ongoing and addresses the question as to why men do not fall victim to the desire to create, attend or otherwise care about these events. A researcher working on the upcoming Journal Report declined to be identified, but explained, “In the last two decades, many more men have been ‘encouraged’ to attend showers by their wives or fiancés. We are finding that in most cases these men spend the event drinking heavily, refusing to leave the buffet, or trying to find someone, anyone, to discuss football. In one documented case,” the researcher went on to say, “a male coerced into attending a wedding shower by his future mother-in-law feigned a heart attack in the middle of the event. He spent the better part of a day happily submitting to invasive medical procedures. Most men don’t enjoy themselves enough to replicate these events with other men, unlike women who sometimes distribute future shower invitations while attending one. We’re also finding that men would rather work longer hours in order to afford items as opposed to begging for a long list of gifts from friends and family.”
That first lawsuit in 2009 was filed by a group of four women shortly after the city of Yenom, AZ, passed its Anti-Panhandling law. The plaintiffs alleged that shower hostesses needed Panhandler’s Licenses before sending out invitations – unless the invitations specifically prohibited gifts. Like many cities throughout the country, Yenom allows some panhandling, but only if the panhandler registers for a license, and the city strictly prohibits any form of Aggressive Panhandling. The lawsuit was eventually settled by all parties when Yenom agreed to pass an ordinance requiring a Special Shower Panhandler’s License for wedding and baby showers. While hostesses initially scoffed at having to be Registered Panhandlers they quickly adapted. “These women really like registering for things, so initially, this turned out to be good solution for us.” Said Yenom Mayor Bob More.
The success of this strategy was short-lived, however, when the plaintiffs in Yenom went back to court alleging that the Registry did not diminish the number of invitations and furthermore the invitations continue to violate the prohibition against Aggressive Panhandling. That suit is still pending.
In the neighboring city of Dilch, AZ, the town council feared a similar lawsuit and decided to preemptively create a different type of registry. “When we saw what happened in Yenom we created a registry for women who want to be invited to these showers. These women actually exist,” said a Council member, who spoke under the condition of anonymity for fear of his wife. “We were going to name the new panhandling registry Babies & Beyond, but Bed, Bath & Beyond sent us a Cease and Desist Order, along with instructions on how to create a successful registry and a 20% off coupon to get us started.”
Back in Fecund, Ms. Kindish was surprised at how her lawsuit divided the small city. “I had no idea that anyone liked going to these events.” she said. “I thought I was doing most women a favor.”
Fecund City Council Attorney Bellows explained the difficulty facing the City Council in complying with the Illinois court’s decision: “We conducted extensive interviews of nearly all the women in town, and found those who would apparently rather set fire to themselves than sit in a circle with paper plates on their laps watching other grown women swoon over baby booties and wrapping paper. But we also interviewed others who within minutes of receiving an invitation were coordinating their outfits, calling friends to see if anyone wanted to go in on a “big” gift, studiously scouring registry items for just the right gift among a long list of just the right gifts, and laboriously marking off the days leading up to the event on their calendars. I don’t know of any woman in town who is neutral on the subject.”
Fecund held a Town Council Meeting to fine tune a solution. The meeting was held in the high school auditorium in order to accommodate the large number of women expected. Over 300 showed up. “Our meetings on school safety and water rights didn’t bring half this many people,” Councilman Capulet noted. “We took the unusual step of hiring security,” he added.
According to the video recording of the meeting, Councilman Montegue opened with a call for comments and the room erupted into chaos.
“I don’t know how much more of my life I can spend oohing and aahing over a set of onesies,” a woman screamed.
“I bring my cheesecake squares,” shouted another. “Everyone loves them.”
“And what about that game where everyone claps like an idiot when the pregnant woman breaks a ribbon?” one woman from the back shouted.
“It’s delightful,” shrieked the woman sitting across from her.
“Oh My God!” added another woman. “I’ve been to showers where they make the woman wear those ribbons on her head.”
“Ladies, please,” interrupted Town Council Attorney Bellows, “to the extent the ribbon-heading constitutes a form of assault, we’ll need a separate council meeting. Let’s limit today’s comments on how to eliminate the overt pandering aspect of these events.”
Ultimately, in a 5-0 decision, the Town Council voted to require a Shower Hostess Panhandler’s License and to prohibit begging for specifically identified items.
We caught up with Ms. Kindish a few months later. “The license requirement did nothing to minimize the number of invitations,” she said. “There is no shame attached to being a Registered Panhandler. The whole point of my suit was to make the begging stop. I got two invitations this week!”